How lovely it is to receive a letter from one we love in the Truth, a letter that contains words of comfort and encouragement in the face of the difficulties of life we may be experiencing.

We have such a letter from our beloved brother Peter as he writes to us sojourners living as pilgrims in this evil age and seeking a better city.

Background

In Peter’s day, the ecclesial world was facing a fiery trial of persecution under the administration of Nero in Rome and they were exhorted to stand fast in the face of this adversity. Nero was emperor from AD 54 to 68 and he initiated great persecutions upon the believers, accusing them of causing a destructive fire in Rome, for which he was, in fact, responsible. It was against this pending adversity that Peter penned his epistle.

We know that we are facing trials today, trials quite different to those of persecution; today, we face the trials of a Laodicean age that is threatening our very ecclesial foundations. But this letter from Peter provides encouragement for us, too, in the face of this subtle type of adversity even today.

An Analysis

Chapter 1

1–2 Peter’s address to those elected for God’s special purpose in Christ

3–9 praise to the Father Who has begotten us unto a living hope which will soon bring sufferings to an end

10–12 blessed are our eyes: the mystery of Christ now revealed to us was withheld from prophets and angels

13–16 watchfulness essential if progress towards holiness is to be made

17–21 sojourning to be passed in fear, seeing saints have been ransomed by the precious blood of God’s Son

22–25 purification expresses itself in love for our brethren – this is the evidence of God’s seed in the believer

Chapter 2

1–3 growing through the milk of the word

4–10 the spiritual house built on the chief Cornerstone

11–17 exhortation to subjection: the pilgrim’s relation to the world

18–20 submission to masters

21–25 Christ: the supreme example of submission to evil for righteousness’ sake

Chapter 3

1–6 wives to submit and be sober

7 husbands must honour their wives

8–13 overcoming evil with good

14–17 when suffering remember God

18–22 Christ’s suffering and death; a pattern for all

Chapter 4

1–6 Christ’s example should inspire fortitude and purity of life

7–11 exhortation to pray to God, to love the brethren, and to work for the glory of God

12–19 partakers of Christ’s suffering and glory

Chapter 5

1–4 elders to feed the flock

5–7 exhortation to youth – humility, vigilance and steadfastness

8–11 a final call for steadfastness in tribulation

12–14 farewell greetings.

Peter was faced with enormous challenges in his age and perhaps this may be the reason we find him writing from Babylon (5:13). Why did he go there and why was he writing to the believers in Asia Minor? We do not know the reasons but whatever they were, Peter felt the responsibility to write this wonderful epistle of encouragement. Or perhaps Peter was using the epithet that was commonly used for Rome among Christians (see The First Epistle of Peter, CSSS, pages 82,83).

Earlier in his probation Peter had acknowledged that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16), and it was on this declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”, that the ecclesia was to be founded. He was given the “keys of the kingdom” (v19) and along with the other disciples was told, “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v19).

The “keys of the kingdom” entrusted to Peter were used to unlock the gospel message, first to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and later to the Gentiles (Cornelius, in Acts 10). The things of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ were thus unlocked to both Jew and Gentile by the Apostle Peter.

A significant theme in the epistle is that of suffering followed by glory. Consider the following extracts:

  • “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1:7)
  • “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1:11)
  • “Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” (1:21)
  • “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (4:13)
  • If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (4:14)
  • “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed (5:1)
  • “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (5:10).
    These two concepts are seemingly irreconcilable to the natural thinking of man.

    We want the Kingdom, but we shrink from the suffering. Peter had personally seen his Lord suffer and now he could write of that suffering and the glory that followed. How poignant are the words he records in 1 Peter 2:20: “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

    ” But these words also challenge us as to our understanding of God’s way. The example of Jesus Christ is the pattern for each of us.

    “For”, says Peter, “even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (2:21).

    The word “example” means “a copy for imitation”, and is reinforced by the words at the end of the verse, “that ye should follow his steps”.

    And the following words of verses 22–23 would have meant a great deal to Peter, for when he denied his Lord he had not followed the example of his Master but reviled and cursed when he was identified as one of his followers.

    “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (v22–23).

    Herein was the great victory for the Lord. He did not retaliate, a response common to our nature; for he threatened not when cruelly buffeted, though innocent and not worthy of such hateful treatment by his own people and the Romans.

    He suffered intensely both in his mind and physically, but he did not succumb, and in permitting his tormentors to crucify him without resistance he was truly “triumphing over them in himself” (Col 2:15 mrg) or in the language of Peter, he “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (2:24).

    Christ could not literally have borne our personal sins in his body, but his nature being identical to ours with all its potential to sin was completely overcome in his obedience even to his death on the cross. Peter then adds, “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness”.

    These words are similar to the reasoning of Paul in Romans 6:10–11: “reckon [take into account] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God”.

    Peter then returns to the work of Christ, quoting Isaiah 53:5, “By whose stripes ye were healed”, showing that he now clearly understood the prophecy of Yahweh’s suffering Servant. This is the one thing that at first Peter could not understand, (Matt 16:22), but now he appreciated the true meaning of the suffering of Christ and the glory that should follow.

    If we are to be glorified with him we, too, must suffer with him. This means we are to “die daily” with Christ, to try and overcome the things he overcame. However, we know we will fail but we must try.

    Peter’s first epistle is a wonderful example of the transforming power of Christ’s teaching. It shows how Peter’s life was changed to become a shepherd who loved and nurtured the brethren, exhorting them “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

    Peter then concludes this letter with words of encouragement that even though we must all pass through a valley of tears, there is a sure and glorious hope for all who stand fast until the end.

    Truly, the knowledge of the glories of the Kingdom is a beautiful thing, like a beautiful rose, with its fragrance and intricate beauty; but it is supported on a stem of thorns. Our lives of probation can be sometimes so much like that; and we may not understand why such things should be! How could the knowledge of the Truth bring so much suffering? But then, as our Creator has designed it, the thorns of the rose bush are there to protect the tender budding flower from predators. So, too, our heavenly Father has and will provide circumstances that sometimes cause suffering.

    “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet 5:10).